If revelations that a top Russian intelligence chief was reportedly involved in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine didn’t make it to the top of your newsfeed this week, amid all the coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, don’t worry. You’re probably not alone. But it is bombshell news that could expose more of the inner workings of Russia’s expansive security agencies.
The Kremlin has consistently denied allegations that Russian intelligence operatives supported the separatist group that shot down Flight 17 over Ukraine’s embattled Donbass region. But on Tuesday, open-source investigators at Bellingcat identified Col. Gen. Andrey Ivanovich Burlaka—a leading official from Russia’s powerful Federal Security Service, or FSB—as the Kremlin’s top man in charge of overseeing the separatist campaign in eastern Ukraine up until at least July 2014, when the jet was shot out of the sky with a surface-to-air missile. Early in his career, Burlaka had reportedly worked his way up the ranks of the FSB’s forerunner, the KGB, with early postings along the southern border of the Soviet Union, near Afghanistan, in the years leading up to the Soviet withdrawal.
The Dutch-led investigation into the shooting down of Flight 17 is still ongoing. But evidence is mounting in support of charges brought by prosecutors in The Hague against three Russian nationals and a Ukrainian who are accused in the MH17 case. Under any other circumstances, detailed revelations implicating a senior FSB official, who is fourth in line in its leadership, in the killing of 298 civilian men, women and children over the skies of Eastern Europe would be major news. All the more so since the news arrived within days of an announcement that Dutch judges would allow the admission of testimony from 12 anonymous witnesses in that trial in The Hague.